In honor of the newly appointed Du Family Professor of Chinese Culture, Wei Shang, a reception and faculty panel discussion was held Monday night in the lovely Casa Italiana. Global canapés expert Olivia Mann stopped by for the shrimp and cultural discourse.
The night kicked off with Professor Shang asking several faculty members to present their work from the first of five Chavkin Chang Global Core Summer Workshops, which resulted in two new Global Core classes on African topics. Professor Souleymane Diagne presented a new survey course entitled “African Civilizations”, while Professor Zoe Crossland introduced her new course, “Archaeology and Africa.”
Patricia Grieve, The Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Professor in the Humanities, gave an overview of the workshop conference’s ideas which helped shape the two new classes. In quoting another member of the conference with the statement, “The world is interconnected, and that interconnectedness has a history,” she aimed to provide a launching point for future development in Global Core philosophy. The goals of the new classes are not just intercultural connections, but also the crucial connections between past and present, artifact and text, and Lit Hum and the Global Core.
If one thing was made clear in the discussion, it was that Core Professors really like Lit Hum. Professor Shang himself sat on the panel and went through the syllabus of the East Asian Colloquium, noting the correlations between the text-based learning and “how to think” style of both his class and Lit Hum/CC. Similarly, Professor Diagne discussed the team teaching strategy, seminar style, and interdisciplinary approach of African Civilizations, with Lit Hum and CC again as a model. The aim is to create a synergy between the various classes of the Core, to promote a holistic learning process in examining many topics side by side, and to provide a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary understanding of “what is the meaning of life?” or “what is the meaning of life in Africa?”—both questions that the Core would like to claim it can now (maybe) pose or (most likely not) answer.
“Out with the old, in with the new,” is not the ideology, however. An important aspect of the new classes is to expand the definition of primary text. Both Professors Diagne and Crossland emphasized the importance of art, artifacts, ritual, and other materials in the learning of new cultures. While classic texts are still a staple (Purple Hibiscus and Things Fall Apart are highlights from the African Civilization and Archaeology and Africa syllabi, respectively), both professors argued that other sources (pottery shards, traditional dances) are an essential component of primary learning.
However, besides all this information about “academics,” one can easily deduce two things from this event: 1. When you get an email inviting you to celebrate Chinese professors/attend an optional discussion on something you’re already required to talk about, there will be unreal catering (as in “saffron shrimp and duck confit” unreal), and 2. the Casa Italiana has a Sex and the City-worthy garden patio.